Code-switching in Monénembo’s ‘Pelourinho’

Following on from a wonderful guest lecture by Dr Diana Cullell in York last week as part of our Seminar Series, where she outlined some of the intricacies of negotiating linguistic identities when translating Catalan poetry, I wanted to continue the theme of sociolinguistics in literary contexts. As such, in this post I will outline some of the arguments I presented last year for a Masters essay on Tierno Monénembo’s (1995) novel Pelourinho.

The novel is set in the Pelourinho district of Salvador, in the Bahia region of Brazil, and it follows the identity quest of an African visitor named Escritore (also known as Africano) from the point of view of two narrators, Innocencio and Leda. These two characters narrate the novel in a mixture of standard and non-standard French, Portuguese, Yoruba, and occasionally English. The substantial use of colonial languages French and Portuguese situate this novel clearly in the category of Europhone literature, which ‘has no language or cultural universe of its own’ and the only way it gains cultural meaning is through the African heritage (wa Thiong’o 2000: 7), by maintaining a dialogue between colonial (Portuguese, French) and heritage (Yoruba) languages. Continue reading

Historical sociolinguistics – how and why?

Having established in the previous post that sociolinguistics is a broad discipline that encompasses issues of language and society, it is not too much of a leap for us to imagine that we can study language and society in the past as well as the present. Sociolinguistics has a wide scope in terms of its sub-disciplines and also the timespan it can cover. Historical sociolinguistics naturally focuses on language and society in the past. This means that a certain number of practical issues arise for historical sociolinguistics scholars that do not exist in the same way for contemporary sociolinguists. In this post I shall outline just a few of these practical issues in an attempt to address the question: ‘So, how and why do you actually do historical sociolinguistics?’.

To begin addressing this question, we should establish exactly what historical sociolinguistics has in common with contemporary sociolinguistics, before highlighting the practical difficulties and how we overcome these. Historical sociolinguistics (sometimes called socio-historical linguistics) benefits being informed by modern sociolinguistic theory, in particular the uniformitarian principle – ‘the working assumption that the fundamental principles and mechanisms of language variation and change are valid across time’ (Auer et al. 2015: 4). Here we encounter our first problem, since we do not want to impose modern concepts onto past societies and languages anachronistically. Being aware of this pitfall, historical sociolinguistic scholars attempt to overcome this by examining each case individually (Auer et al. 2015: 5). Continue reading